Access Now, a non-governmental organization that defends and extends the digital rights of users at risk around the world, has published a report to support governments in fighting against the COVID-19 health crisis in a rights-respecting manner. Titled “Fighting misinformation and defending free expression during COVID-19: recommendations for states”, the report contains a series of recommendations for protecting freedom of expression and opinion and the right to impart and receive information
The report is coming in response to the rapid growth of COVID-19-related misinformation, disinformation, and hate speech which has given governments around the world reason to in swiftly implement measures that disproportionately limit freedom of expression and opinion as to their response to the “infodemic.”
Access Now notes that while misinformation, disinformation, and state-sponsored propaganda are not unique to COVID-19, in the context of an unprecedented health crisis, these phenomena have posed a serious risk to public health as well as a public action.
EliskaPirkova, Europe Policy Analyst at Access Now said: “Hasty and shortsighted solutions to disinformation and misinformation endanger human rights. There will be aftermath to the COVID-19 outbreak, and the measures governments put in place right now will determine what that looks like. Under no circumstances should any government allow people’s fundamental rights to fall victim to this pandemic.”
The report focuses on three areas where people around the world have faced harms and restrictions of their freedom of expression and other fundamental rights including inadequate access to information; disproportionate criminal measures to combat COVID-19 misinformation; and rise of hate speech against certain groups.
Access Now warned that inadequate access to information and broad criminalization of speech can make the ongoing health crisis and its impacts even worse, adding further, during the COVID-19 pandemic, vulnerable groups have been targeted with hate speech leveraging disinformation and misinformation, significantly contributing to the rhetoric of social stigma.
The report identifies practical examples and promising practices for complying with international human rights standards to guide policymakers developing measures to address disinformation and misinformation during the COVID-19 crisis. Access Now’s recommendations can support governments in formulating a common response in the face of this pandemic, and the organisation stands ready to further advise on implementation.
To download the report, please go to https://www.accessnow.org/covid19-fighting-misinformation.